Romney's Cynical, Dishonest Speech

Soon Mitt Romney's only opponent will be Barack Obama. His dispiriting campaign to date, embodied in his New Hampshire speech, does not portend an uplifting spectacle of democracy this summer and fall.
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Last night's victory speech by Mitt Romney was so deeply cynical and fundamentally dishonest that it's hard to know where to begin.

There was his usual bombast about the "European-style entitlement society" that Barack Obama allegedly wants to create, a trope that lets Romney sound like a right-wing bomb-thrower without having to take responsibility for anything specific. And there was his oft-repeated claim that Obama "apologizes for America," a statement that the nonpartisan news organization PolitiFact has found to be a lie of the "pants on fire" variety.

For sheer brazenness, though, it would be hard to top one quick line he inserted into a laundry list of complaints: "The median income has dropped 10 percent in four years."

Let's see now. I know January 2008 was a long time ago, but if we try really, really hard, maybe we can remember a few relevant facts. The president was George W. Bush. The collapse of Lehman Brothers, a signal moment in setting off the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, would not take place for another nine months -- two months before Obama would be elected, and four months before he was sworn into office.

Good numbers can be hard to come by. But I'm sure Romney won't mind if we use the unemployment rate as a proxy for median income, since he blames Obama for that, too. Four years ago this month, joblessness stood at an enviable 4.9 percent. By Election Day, it was 6.8 percent. In February 2009, Obama's first full month in office, it was 8.1 percent. It reached a peak of 10.2 percent in October 2009, then began to ease off as the $787 billion stimulus package that Republicans opposed started to kick in.

Of course, we all know that unemployment has remained stubbornly high, even after a run of better news lately. But for Romney to use January 2008 as any sort of a baseline while ignoring the economic collapse that swept Obama to victory is so transparently wrong it was a wonder he could mouth the words without breaking into a maniacal grin.

There was more in Romney's speech, naturally. For instance, he also said this about Obama: "He lost our AAA credit rating; I'll restore it." In fact, as the ratings agency Standard & Poors made clear at the time, it was Republican intransigence over any tax increase, no matter how modest, that led to the downgrade last summer following the debt-ceiling standoff. "We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues," S&P said in explaining its reasoning.

And there was Romney's old standby about repealing "Obamacare." At this point, we should all have a macro programmed to insert boilerplate text explaining that the federal health-care law is based on a Massachusetts law that Romney championed when he was governor, and that Romney himself wrote could be used as a model (page 177) for other states. In that light, it is hard to see Romney's technically accurate claim (the subject of his $10,000 bet with Rick Perry) that he never said it should be a national model as anything other than an ex post facto attempt to weasel out of a genuine accomplishment that has become a political liability.

When you hear moderates and liberals describe Romney as the most acceptable of the Republican candidates (something I've said myself), it is based on the notion that he doesn't believe a word he's saying. Like George H.W. Bush, he's in "campaign mode," and we're supposed to be reassured that "governing mode" is something entirely different.

The problem with this is that presidents are held to account for what they say when they're campaigning. And some of the stuff Romney's saying is pretty alarming. For instance, given his rhetoric, how could a President Romney not seek to repeal the health-care law, throw money at our already-bloated military and pledge his unwavering support to the Israeli government no matter how irresponsibly it behaves?

Up to this point, Romney has had the advantage of running against an unusually weak field of Republican opponents. Soon his only opponent will be Barack Obama. Romney's dispiriting campaign to date, embodied in his New Hampshire speech, does not portend an uplifting spectacle of democracy this summer and fall.

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